Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Where Are the Bugs?

A fine trout dash to the upper Manistee last weekend. I managed a few brookies all of who refused to pose nicely for an in-net picture. I'm getting very good at impressionistic trout photography and I don't even use elaborate post-production filters! Wrigglers!

Anyway, up north and something is going on this year.

Michigan is usually a metronome bug state. This week has this bug. Next week starts that hatch. We're as dependable as the day is long.

Not this year. Even the mosquitoes are light and sparse. It's been a long cool wet spring but the insect life as is sparse and rare as observed by this angler.

I found some of these fellows. I am a poor judge of insect taxonomy but I believe these to be eastern swallowtails. They are substantial in size so I doubt they are the Canadian variant.










Bear camp. New solo stove ranger portable firepit in the foreground. Awesome stuff.












Doing its thing: containing fire.













These fellows were out in vast numbers. Great to see. The bears will be happy.












Dinner spot waiting on some sort of activity.

The time stamp is off on my camera by about 3 hours. This is just before 8 PM. I took a couple brookies from the cutbank on the far side during my first pass down this section at noon. I fished just over a half mile of stream early in the day then returned in late afternoon to fish the same water having scouted and memorized some key features.

This was a nice glide with three submerged structures on its stretch.


One particularly nice brookie I estimate over the 12" class was twice fooled by nice wire-wrapped partridge-and-yellow spiders in size 14. Nice fish.

Each time he dove instantly into one of these remaining CCC structures placed in-stream to provide habitat back in the day. Most are in the last stage of existence and are wader-rippers with big spike nails and jagged timbers. They do however hold fish.

The water is nearly five feet deep around this example which happened to show up well on the photo.

The trout took on the downstream drift and couldn't free himself from the tension of the line at thirty degrees off to the side. He'd then dive and sprint to the bottom of the structure where he easily snapped my light leader. As soon as I detected life on the line using a hand-twist technique (same thing I learned in Colorado long-line nymphing years ago), he'd be off.

I suspect this trout sports a dozen tattoos of disappointed anglers on his fins and holds a mouthful of piercings like a Seattle barista.

I was able to enjoy the last of some Squadron Leader. I'm not sure how much longer it will be in production so I've stockpiled plenty for the rest of my days. This tin was purchased in 8/2008.

That's my on-stream "Missouri Meerschaum" . I'm not going to cry if it gets away from me in fast current. I believe the $5 pipe is what one wants when on the water.





The advantage of the large wall tent is that one can work away late into the night in a mosquito free environment.

Scotch and ink, gentlemen: almost as pleasing as trout and water. (The T.P. is because of the allergies. I was a sneezing bear Saturday night.)








If you find the hatch, please let me know. I'm thinking of putting a picture of the brown drake on milk jugs.

Prost.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Summer Trout

 It's summer.

At left, a purchase from a winter ago: The Hardy Cascapedia in the 4/5 trout size. I'm torn as to which fishing buddy to leave it to because without a doubt, there'll be a knife fight in the attorney's parking lot over the thing.

I got to meet John Shaner this spring who is the East Coast "Mr. Hardy" among other things. I'm told he had a hand in the re-emergence of this wonderful piece of gear.

He's a super guy and has an encyclopedic knowledge of wet flies, the origins of the North American dry fly tradition, and and and. Besides this, he's a super guy you'd want to introduce to your sister.

I got a bit of stage fright in meeting him.

I fed him and our crew dinner -- a special special Italian affair with great wines (Thanks Scott!) and meatballs someone dear to me taught me to make -- but except for "Hello, glad to meet you" I couldn't bring myself to ask him to sign my old copy of Bergman's Trout.

It goes back to meeting Buck Buchanan in the day (NFL HOF 1990). He died at age 51 of lung cancer. When I met him as a kid, he was the largest man I'd ever seen. I thought he was a giant. I'd watched him on television with my dad and here he was shaking my hand. All I could do was stammer.

I had a date with a girl once who was so beautiful I couldn't talk to her. My only hope was to talk at her while focusing on the foreign businessman and his wife over at the table behind her. The fellow probably thought I was gay the way I kept staring at him. Every time I looked at her, I lost my voice.

Luckily I covered my embarrassment in alcohol because that always helps, right?

With Shaner, I covered it by vicodin and an early trip to bed while everyone else ate and talked. I didn't even get into the dining room. I twisted my ankle the day before and the bastard had swollen to the size of a softball while pounding like it was on an anvil. I wasn't good company.

I'm the king of pissed-away opportunities.

So, the Cascapedia is delightful. It's spooled with OPST Lazar line and I left room to handle a whole fly line in 4/5. I'm going with a Rio LT in DT 4 wt.

Yes, at 6+ ounces someone will say "isn't that heavy?"  The difference between the Cascapedia and a Galvan Torque is about two ounces. That's a couple slices of ham. I'm not going to feel the difference.

I'd say I'm not casting postage-scale light rods but that isn't true. I've an 8' WInston BIIIx in 4 wt and a Hardy Zephrus 8' 4wt  both that are in that light class.  I know 8'6" is the better length in both rods; but, I live in Michigan and 8' is just fine. I prefer the McKellip M84 8' cane but it rains here and one must make concessions.

You don't have a problem with cane in the rain? Good on you. I have and I do.

Anyway, I bought this reel something more than a year ago and have been using it for single-handed Spey work and some double-handed on a 3 wt Echo 10' 6" 3 wt. It's loaded with OPST Lazar line and backing. The thing is large. I've left enough room to make a loop-to-loop for the LT DT from Rio in 4 wt.

I'm tying.

 In sorting some boxes, I've segregated some flies from the collection for this coming weekend on the Au Sable and Manistee both of which are unseasonably -- and uncomfortably -- high.

  Big coachman-style streamer with a double hackle head inspired by the low-water spey flies Steve at The Soft-Hackle Journal ties. Mine aren't as clean or neat; but, the big hydraulic wake of the twin hackles does something special on 12" strips and BOOM trout take 'em.  Size 7  Alec Jackson irons hook here.


 A nice red-assed inspired wire wrapped soft-hackle that does well in finding the underwater soft seam below faster surface current.  Fish lying in that gravel channel under the flow take this beast with gusto which is good because I often have enough slack in my system on the take that I need the assist.







Black and palmered in a wide-gap #14. Always helpful in softer water when things are still a bit higher and faster than usual.











I'm making the run to do a "dry camp" up on the Manistee at the ruins of Deward.

The river is small there and high water won't hurt the brookies. I'll swing a hammock (Hennessy - now a 20 year old beast good as the first day new) and use a Ranger stove from the Solo Stove people as my portable fire pit. It's a lightweight camp confined by distance-from-road restrictions.

Hey, we all want to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness so some camping restrictions are in order.

Hope summer smiles on you. It was a long time getting here.

Prost.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Zern

I couldn't find a public-domain picture of Ed Zern to feature in this post.

I miss the humorists of the last generation: Buchwald, Zern, McManus. Hell, I miss Erma.

I miss Royko.

There is an essay lurking behind this lede; but, I'm going to spare you the details. This is a fly fishing blog, mostly.

I've never solved an important problem while standing in a trout stream.

That doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying.

I can't be the first guy to put that in print so: unattributed quote reuse.















Tuesday, May 21, 2019

From Adventure: Treasure

AT left, some favorite hooks acquired from the Dette fly shop,  Livingston Manor, NY.

I love the Partridge hooks. I've used a few and find then to be optimal for my fishing. Finding the mother lode was a huge bonus for the trip.

Dette has the whole catalog on their shelves. The heavy wire hooks are my favorites for spring because my soft hackle wets  easily penetrate the film and drift down to the 12 - 18 inch depth I find pulls fish from their bank and timber hiding spots. We hatch a lot of caddis in this state and so nymphs "practicing" their assent is a common sight to trout. Wets floating in the water column do the job.

I was so excited to find the hooks that I went a little overboard on the buy.




I believe.

At left, a no-hackle nymph given the extra weight of a bead-head. Yes, you correctly recognize the pink squirrel.

The extra-length tail on this #17 model prevents the tumble effect common on some bead-heads. It allows me a little more leverage in "steering" my fly during downstream drifts in gin-clear water.

I believe in the pink squirrel. It has been a day-saver for me.

AT left, a generic Michigan searching fly: the hackled olive spider. This one is tied on an Alec Jackson steel dry fly hook I find heavy enough to penetrate the film.

I will use this fly on the Upper Manistee near the Deward tract here right after Memorial Day. 






And since spring is a long slow affair this year, I'll also make good use of this purple-and-starling tied with my diminishing stock of Pearsall's thread.

These  dark little pieces of food do well for me in shallow water ticking over gravel or cobble right into the head of a pool. There's almost always some hungry trout with enough interest to make a grab.

 


I've broken out the light camping gear: my Hennesy Hammock I use in Canada as there is no flat ground whatsoever in the Wabakimi.

When it is hot, sleeping in the hammock is preferable to lying in a bunk and sweating all night despite the fact I smell of bacon to the bears. Sleeping in a hammock is called "hanging" by the cool kids. Makes me think of hams hanging in the rafters. I think bears think that way, too.

It takes two minutes to set-up my light camp and on the Upper Manistee in spring, I want to waste no time. The brookies are hungry!

I'm booked into the Driftless for early fall. I'm going to give my new hooks a work-out there. Maybe on the fall trip it won't rain six inches in the week. Maybe. Falls can be wet over there.

Prost.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Neversink Unique Area

AT left, a picture from the Neversink well inside the Unique Area looking down on the river itself. In this picture, flows are three times normal as measured at an upstream gauging station. The debris from a couple weeks ago is another six feet up the banks! That must have been something to see.

I took a fish out of the slick in the bottom right corner.

The water had a slight cast -- green, Jim says -- but visibility exceeded 20 feet. I had the head of a Wulff TT line out plumbing the depths off a rock ledge and I could see my bead-head PTN flymph just ticking the bottom rocks as the color transition on the line denoting the head was in my hand.

Our lunch spot. Jim in foreground. Riffled break goes up around the bend. A long slick is a my back.

We've hiked in about an hour mostly downhill to reach this spot.  The day began with light rain and a cold drizzle and became this warm spring day with full sun. It topped 70 by the time we hiked out.

We were supposed to have storms but none materialized. We could hear thunder in the north as we hiked out.

The downstream lunch view. Halfway down a brook emerges from behind Jim.

The humidity was up: tropical, even.  The river valley was set to "coastal".

The blackflies were out in hordes. We endured though I'm covered in small itchy welts. Mildly annoying at the time. Mildly annoying now.

Black flies are not deer flies and the bites are  in the "discomfort" range. Deer flies are far worse.

The small brook in its last pool before tumbling to the Neversink.

It is water very much like Alan fishes on Small Stream Reflections in the right sidebar. The little fellow ran full but the very steep plunges seemed to dissuade the brookies.

I tried a Wulff in size 18 here. Nothing rose. My suspicion is that my over zealous approach put the fish down. Has to be one in there.









This lovely fellow in the 16" - 18"  class (net holds a 21" when stretched so I have a good comparison)  came from the foot of the flow where the brook (above) runs into the Neversink.

This was a very quick in-net photo and the lens is slightly fogged from being in my shirt pocket in this very high humidity.  I'm standing one foot in the brook looking out to the river.

He lacked girth but was long like a cat stretched out on your leg. I frequently encounter cat-on-leg so it comes to mind readily.

He took a partridge-and-yellow in size 12, wire wrapped with a piece of .20 non-lead tied-in along the shank. It sank well and I had to guide it downstream about sixty feet from where I could stand in the brook in order to clear some car-sized submerged rocks.

The fight to get him to my net was as exciting as I've had in years. Current, strong fish, rocks. My heart was pounding and my smile hurt my cheeks.

The emergence point of the small brook featured above. That current tongue on the right which meets a poorly illustrated lateral seam from the Neversink proper was just where I caught the trout.

I took my  snapshot, declared my prize, and moved on to let Jim have a shot at what clearly was a wonderfully fish-y spot.





The lunch spot riffle-run. The high water and fast current induced standing waves I don't suspect are standard on the Neversink.











A line of riffles from submerged rocks running across to the rock bluff just coming into view on the far left of the frame. It is much prettier in person than the flattened perspective of a snapshot allows.

The seam 1/3 the way across the river held a deep pool and it yielded a nice trout.






An 8" - 10" class trout from the bottom of a Neversink pool. Lovely coloration on this guy. He received a quick lift -- tail still in the stream -- for the snap.

I like this method of photographing fish as he was exposed to air for less than a five-count. It isn't the best fish picture in the world but we've all seen fish and he could use a break.

I've enough "grip-and-gin" for a lifetime.

He's kinda cute in this one.


I fished a Hardy 8' 4wt Zephrus with a Douglas 3" Argus reel and a Wulff TT line in 4.  The high water really made the aggressive roll cast the means of fishing. The 4wt was fine for the day.

The Neversink in the Unique Area is really good cane water. The early drizzle and the threat of storms made me bring plastic. I have a nice 8' 4/5 Steffen Bros. fiberglass blank laid up by Mark McKellip but I grabbed the Hardy because I wanted to see how it did with dry-fly in the field. New rod from the winter purchases.

Alas, we saw a half-dozen risers but couldn't reach across the river to get to them. My 6wt Winston Boron III Plus I used on the Beaverkill would have allowed me to make the presentation but I suspect -- correctly -- the rod to be overkill for the standard trout in narrow confines.

A four weight gave me thrills on the large fish and enjoyment with the smaller. Lots of bugs off the water; but, little surface action.

I tried the litany of soft hackles -- some dressed to the film, others in the top 8" or so and a few lightly weighted with wire wraps for the top 18"-24". Nothing.

I lost several fish on long lines fishing deep swings with weighted black, orange, and a couple snipe and purple soft-hackle flymphs tied with tungsten beads in #14 and #16. I used a long-line nymphing technique (no bobber) and a long leader greased at the junction with the fly line. I could hook-up using the barbless ties even in strong currents with a lot of line.  I only brought one of these to hand however.

The fish in the net above took a cdc caddis in grey drowned by a current tongue and carried nearly across the bottom of a pool. I could see the flash of the take.

The current was too high for wading as pictured.  We fished from the banks and a few rock-hops.

From the hike through the forest.













The Neversink Unique Area is well worth the hike. It's easy to find a day's worth of water and we saw no other anglers. A mile on foot seems to be the measure that sorts the crowds.

In the increasingly crowd-fished Catskills, the Neversink offers the isolated adventure one needs.

Prost.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Beaverkill Pools

The core of my Catskill trip revolved around "the five" : west and east branches of the Delaware, the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, and the Neversink.

These five constitute a career's worth of water. If one were to fish no other streams, there would be enough here for fifty years and a dozen styles of fishing from wispy two-weight dry fly midges on tiny brooks to true Spey-style swings for deep-holding large trout across massive waters.

Our style of dry fly fishing here east of the Mississippi originated in flies inspired by those sent by Frederic Halford to Theodore Gordon. Gordon slightly altered the appearance of some patterns to more closely resemble those of insects hatching in the Catskill system illustrated at left and thus began the "Catskill-style" fly fishing of surface dries.

Certainly there were independent origins of dry fly development and the products likely evolved into the synthesis of what we consider now; but, the spiritual heart of the dry fly emerged and was re-enforced by the presence of  writers and their east coast readership who had the means and leisure to pursue fly fishing in this region. Other factors for fame include the introduction of brown and rainbow trout into brook trout fisheries decimated by deforestation and over-fishing.

Today I want to speak of the classic pools of the Beaverkill. My hand drawn map at the above is an inexact approximation; but, as you look at it, we're dealing with the section in the middle from East Branch upstream on the Beaverkill to Roscoe where the Beaverkill is joined by the Willowemoc  adding a considerable amount of water to the flow.

The famous pools begin inside the town of Roscoe on its southwest side with Junction Pool. The river and its pools are paralleled by Old Highway 17 throughout this length which makes the park-and-fish angler its principal population but for a couple of locations.

New Highway 17 (4-lane divided highway) is seldom out of sight and less out of earshot. There is little illusion of fly fishing classic waters from the early 1900's in the presence of singing tires and jake brakes from tractor-trailer rigs slowing on curves.

The pools are easy to find for they all bare large signs. Here is Junction Pool's:

We're in town at Roscoe.  I'm standing on a bridge abutment. There is a smallish parking lot here with room for half-a-dozen cars. The Roscoe Motel is across the road just behind me and to the right.












And, the pool. That's new Route 17 in the background. There is some sort of light industrial building across the river separated from the bank by a large chain-link style fence. The rip-rap on the bank is natural stone but still appears to be dumped by a highway department probably after the erosion caused by the massive flood of 2006.

Anglers fish this stretch rod to rod standing on the shallow inside from where my picture is staged and casting to the channel passing by the far bank. Only one angler was fishing when we arrived -- a rare occurrence -- but the whole place had the air of "fish harvest." All that was missing was a large salmon trap floating against the bank with its arms slowly turning to the cadence of  the harvesting march. (Sounds a bit like Panzerleid to me).

The aroma of combat fishing hung too strongly in the air. We passed and moved along.

The pools on the Beaverkill are close together and flow one into another. Below the Junction Pool is Ferdon's Pool named for the Ferdon family. Oddly, it is this pool where the first Hendrickson fly was tied by a guide named Roy Steenrod for the famous Mr. Hendrickson for whom the Hendrickson Pool is named. All very confusing, I'll admit.

Below the Ferdon's Pool is Barnhart's pool. Sign at left. Pool pictured below.




That's Neall from the Painted Trout on the bank. My other pictures turned out poorly. It's a  pool of water  reached by a hike of a quarter mile or so across flat -- and sometimes a little muddy -- meadow. There is room for four or five anglers here if they know one another.









The Famous Hendrickson Pool. I took a couple fish here. The rocks are brutal. B.R.U.T.A.L.

I'd say you must have a staff here. The current was assertive but the footing was treacherous with rocks distributed across the bottom ranging from basketball to ottoman sized. And ... they move.

I twisted an ankle bad enough I'm still limping here a week later. I just taped it up at fish camp and continued fishing. You might be a strong wader and able to avoid trouble. I didn't. The folks that fished this water one hundred years ago must have been tough.
Hendrickson's Pool above on the far left side of the snap as we look down the long flow and the bend toward Horse Brook Run named for Horse Brook which enters halfway down from the right side of the frame. That is old RTE 17 running down the right. The bank is thirty feet of rip-rap and is steep.

Horse Brook.














Beadhead flymph of the type I used to take my two trout in two hours from Hendrickson's. The body of these is a black or root beer dubbing spun in a loop to form a thorax, a hen pheasant tail, and a substantial dark hackle below the bead. The fly is a size 10  1 xl. I lost many in the pinch-points between the irregular rocks. I did however take fish.  No one else did.

Stonefly? Iso? Leech? The fly worked.

I asked the trout. They wouldn't talk. Probably knew I was a softie and was going to be quick returning them to the stream.

There are a number of successive pools one after another denoted with signs and located right along the old highway.

We stopped and fished after passing the other pools all of which were occupied by anglers in early afternoon. Painter's Bend just above Cooks Falls presented a nice flow and a nice rainbow for my fishing partner Jim Page.










Jim playing a rainbow.

Wading was much better here. The depth across the pool is mid-thigh with a few slightly deeper slots. Jim is on a cobble tongue so is in a little less water.

The current was stiff but the low depth made it fine to fish. I swung everything in the arsenal a little upstream from here and found nothing. From the riffles below Jim is a section of more than a mile of pocket water. When it is warmer, I'll go back to pick these pools at dusk. My ankle was tender so a great deal of movement in the stream was not high on my list of activities when this snap was taken. I was pretty much just "icing" it in very cool water and practicing my single-handed Spey technique.

I fished a Winston BIII Plus saltwater rod in 9' 6 wt here on the Beaverkill and that was about right. I used a Cascapedia rigged with OPST running line, heads, and tips. With the current, a fourteen inch trout  put up a solid fight with fifty feet of line out up at Hendrickson's Pool. Here at Painter's, I didn't think a four weight had enough for control.

A conventional nine foot five was probably right but I wanted to use the Winston.


The panorama of Painter's gives some idea of the course of water. There is a great deal of it here and a party of five or six could easily fish without being in each other's way providing again that they know each other.

In a day,  we stopped at five pools; drove past a half-dozen more occupied by anglers; and enjoyed the river immensely. This little section of the "upper no-kill" on the map could take an entire season to learn to fish. There are a great many anglers in the Catskills. There is water to hold them.



My favorite sign from the trip is above.

If you are curious, I recommend Fly Fishing the Beaverkill  by Eric Peper and Gary LaFontaine (The Lyons Press. Guilford, Connecticut. 1999).  This slim book prepared my crew well for the Beaverkill and the famous pools including bits of the area's history and the naming sources.

Our crew which included two guides and a North American manager for a major fly fishing gear manufacturer struggled at times.  Our party had over 250 years of fly fishing time and still the fish were a little tight-lipped. I felt fortunate to get two fish this day. The professionals were blanked -- different water, though.

The fishery is changing. Guide boats have exploded in the past ten years. At one point, we counted nine boats in a line on a stretch of the Delaware. I heard a story of nineteen trailers at a take-out.

Now, I'm not too anxious to pay $400 to follow another boat all day pool to pool. YMMV.

There are no boats on the famous stretch of the Beaverkill. At lest, there are no boats that would last a season or that wouldn't have to be pulled over humps in the case of rafts. This is wade fishing territory and the better for it.

The fish in the pools I covered above see a great many flies.

Like the Au Sable here in Michigan, fish are moving more and more towards nocturnal feeding. They've had dries, bobber-nymphs, and bank-pounding streamers thrown at them. They're responding.

Three fish  constitute a fine day on most of this famous water. A decade ago, you'd expect three in an hour. I've never been much of a numbers guy. I like to catch fish but am content with any fish for my effort.  Considering I was sight fishing new water, I'm more than happy with a couple of fish taken in spring from the bottom third of the water column.

I saw a handful of splashy rises, surmised subsurface feeding based on rise form, and pursued. My sot hackle efforts in the top third produced nothing. Jim took a ainbow on a nice soft-hackle hare's ear flymph.

You pays your money. You takes your chance.

Prost.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fishing in the Catskills

At left, my friend Jim fishing just below the Downsville covered bridge on the East Branch of the Delaware river below the Pepaction dam.

It was a great morning and a solid snap. We took turns as subject for "action shots" to say we'd fished the pool.

No fish. Some bugs.





 Here are the bridge details nicely spelled out and poorly photographed by yours truly













.
Above, a couple pictures of the Beaverkill below Roscoe. It can be a little industrial fishing due to the confined nature of the Catskill valleys and the long established roads and infrastructure.

The Willowemoc flowing below the school in downtown Livingston Manor. We had lunch on this deck and the view -- and bugs -- were great. No risers.










 Shopping at Dette flies after lunch. Great place. They had the Partridge hooks I really wanted to top off the bins. I have materials but my hook supply took a big hit between this trip and last fall's Yellowstone.

Feeder stream into the far upper Willowemoc above the mile-and-a-quarter stretch completely owned by the DeBruce club.  Looks like Alan's sort of water.

The river is wonderful at this spot but we were scouting, drove to the upstream pond, and came back to find a pair of anglers just suiting up. We waved. We kicked ourselves. We drove on.

Seeing the multitude of 'Posted" signs and the cable barriers across the Willowemoc river demarking the DeBruce club stretch certainly made me hope a outbreak of leprosy infects guests.

I understand the stream ownership rules based on the fact the river was not historically used for navigation. Doesn't make me like it or folks that hold to it. I won't trespass; but, I'm not buying any drinks in the club room.

Our first day involved a great deal of scouting. Fishing in the evening was on the upper west branch of the Delaware of which I now realize I have no pictures. It was right across the road from our house. More the pity.

The next several days saw fishing in the famous pools of the Beaverkill (caught fish) and an adventure into the Neversink Unique Area (caught fish).

Until I cover these, a fish picture from the famous Hendrickson pool.:


This year I am trying to high-speed the net picture.

This guy I had to hold because he inhaled a barbless fly! Easy extraction with forceps, post extraction snap following another in-net wetting, and a release. Good expression, though. 10" - 12" class fish.

Prost.